College Basketball Pick
This statement gets said often, maybe a little too often, but it’s true. This is an important Game for both teams, yet for separate reasons. To start the new year, Illinois was ranked No. 11 in the country and coming off a home demolition of Ohio State. since that Game, they have lost Four of their last five Games with none of them being all that close.
Their current Big 10 record is 2-5 which is behind that of Northwestern and along the same lines as Iowa. The Spartans, on the other hand, are playing great, but are coming off a loss at Indiana which has them sitting a Game behind two first place schools. If they want a chance at the top of the conference, they can’t lose home Games to mediocre teams, and this is one of those Games.
Illinois started off the season great and caught everyone by surprise. They handled Butler on a neutral site and then went to Gonzaga and never really let up in an 11-point win. So what exactly has happened to the Fighting Illini since that 12-0 start? They’re playing better defenses. This is a team that averaged 76.9 points per Game in non-Conference Games, yet hasn’t even passed 75 points in a Conference Game. That drop off is huge. A reason for their lack of offense is that they don’t spread the ball enough. Illinois only assists on 42.5 percent of its made baskets this year which is the Fourth lowest in the nation. They are 11-0 when they have more than 10 assists in a Game and have only averaged 7.2 assists per Game in their six losses.
Will things be easier for the Fighting Illini in East LAnsing? It’s unlikely as Michigan State hasn’t lost at home all season. MSU just finished with a six-Game winning streak that was recently halted at Indiana. Big wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin have keyed the Spartans and make them look like a Final Four contender.
Their one downfall continues to be turnovers as they give the ball up on 21.6 percent (second worst in conference) of its possessions which killed them against the Hoosiers. The Spartans are usually known for their offensive rebounding, but that has been down this year as well. So how have they been so successful? They are getting tons of easy buckets scoring over 50 percent of their points from inside the paint which is the highest mark in the Big 10.
That’s where Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix come in. The big men are a handful down low and not to mention Payne has become somewhat of an outside threat with six three-pointers in the last five Games. Nnanna Egwu and Tyler Griffey will surely have their hands full for the Illini. In addition to those threats in the post, you still have to worry about their three leading scorers in Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson. Appling runs the show at point, Harris is deadly from outside (five threes last Game) and Dawson is a playmaker everywhere on the cOurt and has 30 points over his last two Games.
This may be the Game that Michigan State comes through on the offensive glass because Illinois has a problem in that area. While the Spartans have three players averaging more than 6.5 boards per Game, the Illini have zero players that average more than five boards.
Illinois is run through its backcOurt. D.J. Richardson had 30 points against Nebraska last week and will need another big Game for the Illini. We haven’t seen any 30-point outbursts from Brandon Paul in a while and one might be needed to get Illinois out of this snag. He’s averaging 18 points per Game, but has struggled from behind the arc in Big 10 play.
For Illinois to stay with the Spartans on the road, they’ll have to get their assist total up and work as a team to get by this feisty defense. Of course, there’s always the chance that Richardson and Paul both find their shooting touch, but that’s a long shot. If neither can happen, another double-digit deficit could be in the works.
Predicted Score- Michigan St 68 Illinois 58
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